David Bohm: The question of thought and reality and truth has occupied philosophers over the ages. It’s a very difficult one. It seems to me that what you say is basically true, but there are a lot of points that need to be ironed out. One of the questions that arises is this: if reality is thought, what thought thinks about, what appears in consciousness, does it go beyond consciousness?
K: Are the contents of consciousness reality ?
DB: That’s the question; and can we use thought as equivalent to consciousness in its basic form ?
DB: I wonder whether, just for the sake of completeness, we should include in thought also feeling, desire, will and reaction.
I feel we should, if we are exploring the connection between consciousness, reality and truth.
DB: One of the points I’d like to bring up is: there is thought, there is our consciousness, and there is the thing of which we are conscious. And as you have often said, the thought is not the thing.
DB: We have to get it clear, because in some sense the thing may have some kind of reality independent of thought; we can’t go so far as to deny all that. Or do we go as far as some philosophers, like Bishop Berkeley, who has said that all is thought? Now I would like to suggest a possibly useful distinction between that reality which is largely created by our own thought, or by the thought of mankind, and that realty which one can regard as existing independently of this thought. For example, would you say Nature is real?
K: It is, yes.
DB: And it is not just our own thoughts.
K: No, obviously not.
DB: The tree, the whole earth, the stars.
K: Of course, the cosmos. Pain is real.
DB: Yes. I was thinking the other day, illusion is real, in the sense that it is really something going on, to a person who is in a state of illusion.
K: To him it is real.
DB: But to us it is also real because his brain is in a certain state of electrical and chemical movement, and he acts from his illusion in a real way.
K: In a real way, in a distorted way.
DB: Distorted but real. Now it occurred to me that one could say that even the false is real but not true. This might be important.
K: I understand. For instance: is Christ real?
DB: He is certainly real in the minds of people who believe in Him, in the sense we have been discussing.
K: We want to find out the distinction between truth and reality. We said anything that thought thinks about, whether unreasonably or reasonably, is a reality. It may be distorted or reasoned clearly, it is still a reality. That reality, I say, has nothing to do with truth.
DB: Yes, but we have to say besides, that in some way reality involves more than mere thought. There is also the question of actuality. Is the thing actual? Is its existence an actual fact? According to the dictionary, the fact means what is actually done, what actually happens, what is actually perceived.
K: Yes, we must understand what we mean by the fact.
DB: The fact is the action that is actually taking place. Suppose, for example, that you are walking on a dark road and that you think you see something. It may be real, it may not be real. One moment you feel that it’s real and the next moment that it’s not real. But then you suddenly touch it and it resists your movement. From this action it’s immediately clear that there is a real thing which you have contacted. But if there is no such contact you say that it’s not real, that it was perhaps an illusion, or at least something mistakenly taken as real.
K: But, of course, that thing is still a reality that thought thinks about. And reality has nothing to do with truth.
DB: But now, let us go further with the discussion of ‘the thing’. You see, the root of the English word ‘thing’ is fundamentally the same as the German ‘bedingen’, to condition, to set the conditions or determine. And indeed we must agree that a thing is necessarily conditioned.
K: It is conditioned. Let’s accept that.
DB: This is a key point. Any form of reality is conditioned. Thus, an illusion is still a form of reality which is conditioned. For example, the man’s blood may have a different constitution because he’s not in a balanced state. He is distorting, he may be too excited, and that could be why he is caught in illusion. So every thing is determined by conditions and it also conditions every other thing.
K: Yes, quite.
DB: All things are interrelated in the way of mutual conditioning which we call influence. In physics that’s very clear, the planets all influence each other, the atoms influence each other, and I wanted to suggest that maybe we could regard thought and consciousness as part of this whole chain of influence.
K: Quite right.
DB: So that every thing can influence consciousness and it in turn can work back and influence the shapes of things, as we make objects. And you could then say that this is all reality, that thought is therefore also real.
K: Thought is real.
DB: And there is one part of reality influencing another part of reality.
K: Also, one part of illusion influences another part of illusion.
DB: Yes, but now we have to be careful because we can say there is that reality which is not made by man, by mankind.
But that’s still limited. The cosmos, for example, as seen by us is influenced by our own experience and therefore limited.
DB: Any thing that we see, we see through our own experience, our own background. So that reality cannot possibly be totally independent of man.
DB: It may be relatively independent. The tree is a reality that is relatively independent but it’s our consciousness that abstracts the tree.
K: Are you saying that man’s reality is the product of influence and conditioning?
DB: Yes, mutual interaction and reaction.
K: And all his illusions are also his product.
DB: Yes, they are all mixed together.
K: And what is the relationship of a sane, rational, healthy, whole man, to reality and to truth?
DB: Yes, we must consider that, but first may we look at this question of truth. I think the derivation of words is often very useful. The word ‘true’ in Latin, which is ‘verus’, means ‘that which is’. The same as the English ‘was’ and ‘were’, or German ‘wahr’. Now in English the root meaning of the word ‘true’ is honest and faithful; you see, we can often say that a line is true, or a machine is true. There was a story I once read about a thread that ran so true; it was using the image of a spinning-wheel with the thread running straight.
DB: And now we can say that our thought, or our consciousness, is true to that which is, if it is running straight, if the man is sane and healthy. And otherwise it is not, it is false. So the falseness of consciousness is not just wrong information, but it is actually running crookedly as a reality.
K: So you’re saying, as long as man is sane, healthy, whole and rational, his thread is always straight.
DB: Yes, his consciousness is on a straight thread. Therefore his reality…
K: …is different from the reality of a man whose thread is crooked, who is irrational, who is neurotic.
DB: Very different. Perhaps the latter is even insane. You can see with insane people how different it is – they sometimes cannot even see the same reality at all.
K: And the sane, healthy, whole, holy man, what is his relationship to truth?
DB: If you accept the meaning of the word, if you say truth is that which is, as well as being true to that which is, then you have to say that he is all this.
K: So you would say the man who is sane, whole, is truth?
DB: He is truth, yes.
K: Such a man is truth. He may think certain things which would be reality, but he is truth. He can’t think irrationally.
DB: Well, I wouldn’t say quite that, I’d say that he can make a mistake.
K: Of course.
DB: But he doesn’t persist in it. In other words, there is the man who has made a mistake and acknowledges it, changes it.
K: Yes, quite right.
DB: And there is also the man who has made a mistake but his mind is not straight and therefore he goes on with it. But we have to come back to the question: does truth go beyond any particular man; does it include other men, and Nature as well?
K: It includes all that is.
DB: Yes, so the truth is one. But there are many different things in the field of reality. Each thing is conditioned, the whole field of reality is conditioned. But clearly, truth itself cannot be conditioned or dependent on things.
K: What then is the relationship to reality of the man who is truth?
DB: He sees all the things and, in doing this, he comprehends reality. What the word ‘comprehends’ means is to hold it all together.
K: He doesn’t separate reality. He says, ‘I comprehend it, I hold it, I see it’.
DB: Yes, it’s all one field of reality, himself and everything. But it has things in it which are conditioned and he comprehends the conditions.
K: And because he comprehends conditioning, he is free of conditioning.
DB: It seems clear then that all our knowledge, being based on thought, is actually a part of this one conditioned field of reality.
K: Now another question. Suppose I am a scholar, I’m full of such conditioned and conditioning knowledge. How am I to comprehend truth in the sense of holding it all together?
DB: I don’t think you can comprehend truth.
K: Say I have studied all my life, I’ve devoted all my life to knowledge, which is reality.
DB: Yes, and it is also about a bigger reality.
K: And suppose you come along and say, ‘Truth is somewhere else, it’s not that’. I accept you, because you show it to me, and so I say, ‘Please help me to move from here to that’.
K: Because once I get that, I comprehend it. If I live here, then my comprehension is always fragmented.
K: Therefore my knowledge tells me, ‘This is reality but it is not truth’. And suppose you come along and say, ‘No, it is not’. And I ask: please tell me how to move from here to that.
DB: Well, we’ve just said we can’t move…
K: I’m putting it briefly. What am I to do?
DB: I think I have to see that this whole structure of knowledge is inevitably false, because my reality is twisted.
K: Would you say the content of my consciousness is knowledge?
K: How am I to empty that consciousness and yet retain knowledge which is not twisted – otherwise I can’t function – and reach a state, or whatever it is, which will comprehend reality. I don’t know if I’m making myself clear.
K: What I’m asking is: my human consciousness is its content, which is knowledge; it’s a messy conglomeration of irrational knowledge and some which is correct. Can that consciousness comprehend, or bring into itself, truth?
DB: No, it can’t.
K: Therefore, can this consciousness go to that truth? It can’t either. Then what?
DB: There can be a perception of the falseness in this consciousness. This consciousness is false, in the sense that it does not run true. Because of the confused content it does not run true.
K: It’s contradictory.
DB: It muddles things up.
K: Not, ‘muddles things up; it is a muddle.
DB: It is a muddle, yes, in the way it moves. Now then, one of the main points of the muddle is that when consciousness reflects on itself, the reflection has this character: it’s as if there were a mirror and consciousness were looking at itself through a mirror and the mirror is reflecting consciousness as if it were not consciousness but an independent reality.
DB: Now therefore, the action which consciousness takes is wrong, because it tries to improve the apparently independent reality, whereas in fact to do this is just a muddle.
I would like to put it this way: the whole of consciousness is somehow an instrument which is connected up to a deeper energy. And as long as consciousness is connected in that way, it maintains its state of wrong action.
DB: So on seeing that this consciousness is reflecting itself wrongly as independent of thought, what is needed is somehow to disconnect the energy of consciousness. The whole of consciousness has to be disconnected, so it would, as it were, lie there without energy.
K: You’re saying, don’t feed it. My consciousness is a muddle, it is confused, contradictory, and all the rest of it. And its very contradiction, its very muddle, gives its own energy.
DB: Well, I would say that the energy is not actually coming from consciousness, but that as long as the energy is coming, consciousness keeps the muddle going.
K: From where does it come?
DB: We’d have to say that perhaps it comes from something deeper.
K: If it comes from something deeper, then we enter into the whole field of gods and outside agency and so on.
DB: No, I wouldn’t say the energy comes from an outside agency. I would prefer to say it comes from me, in some sense.
K: Then the ‘me’ is this consciousness?
K: So the content is creating its own energy. Would you say that?
DB: In some sense it is, but the puzzle is that it seems impossible for this content to create its own energy. That would be saying that the content is able to create its own energy.
K: Actually, the content is creating its own energy. Look, I’m in contradiction and that very contradiction gives me vitality. I have got opposing desires. When I have opposing desires I have energy, I fight. Therefore that desire is creating the energy – not God, or something profounder – it is still desire. This is the trick that so many played. They say there is an outside agency, a deeper energy – but then one’s back in the old field. But I realize the energy of contradiction, the energy of desire, of will, of pursuit, of pleasure, all that which is the content of my consciousness – which is consciousness – is creating its own energy. Reality is this; reality is creating its own energy. I may say, ‘I derive my energy deep down’, but it’s still reality.
DB: Yes, suppose we accept that, but the point is that seeing the truth of this…
K: …that’s what I want to get at. Is this energy different from the energy of truth?
K: It is different.
DB: But let’s try to put it like this: reality may have many levels of energy.
DB: But a certain part of the energy has gone off the straight line. Let’s say the brain feeds energy to all the thought processes. Now, if somehow the brain didn’t feed energy to the thought process that is confused, then the thing might straighten out.
K: That’s it. If this energy runs along the straight thread it is a reality without contradiction. It’s an energy which is endless because it has no friction. Now is that energy different from the energy of truth?
DB: Yes. They are different, and as we once discussed, there must be a deeper common source.
K: I’m not sure. You are suggesting that they both spring out of the same root.
DB: That’s what I suggest. But for the moment there is the energy of truth which can comprehend the reality and…
K: …the other way it cannot.
DB: No, it cannot; but there appears to be some connection in the sense that when truth comprehends reality, reality goes straight. So there appears to be a connection at least one way.
K: That’s right, a one-way connection – truth loves this, this doesn’t love truth.
DB: But once the connection has been made, then reality runs true and does not waste energy or make confusion.
K: You see, that’s where meditation comes in. Generally, meditation is from here to there, with practice and all the rest of it. To move from this to that.
DB: Move from one reality to another.
K: That’s right. Meditation is actually seeing what is. But generally meditation is taken as moving from one reality to another.